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Merchant's House to Display Photos of New York Civil War Regiment Soldiers

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

On April 13, 1861, the U.S. Army garrison at Fort Sumter, South Carolina surrendered to Confederate troops. Two days later, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation calling for 75,000 militiamen to pick up their rifles and squelch the southern rebellion. The American Civil War was on.

In honor of the soldiers who put their lives on the line in the ensuing four years of war, the Merchant's House Museum in Manhattan is presenting a series of photographs of wounded Civil War soldiers who served in New York regiments. The exhibit marks the first time any of the photographs will be displayed to the public in the 150 years since the war.

Military historian and Civil War reenactor Robert Mulligan, who is from Albany, said the New York battalions included some notable troops.

"One was in the box with Lincoln when Lincoln was shot, and another was the first union officer killed in the war, Elmer Ellsworth," he said.

Each photograph at the Merchant's House Museum exhibit was taken by Reed Brockway Bontecou, who was the surgeon in charge of Washington, D.C.'s Harewood U.S. Army General Hospital. When the war ended, the photographs became the largest part of the government’s war medical photograph collection.

Mulligan has for years played the roles of Corporal James Tamer of the 86th New York Infantry and Sargent Rice C. Bull of the 103rd New York Infantry. Bull was injured in battle and Tamer lost both of his feet, but Mulligan doubted that either of the men passed through Bontecou's hospital.

"It was a hub of medical treatment, but I'd be surprised to find their photographs," he said. "There were just too many injured soldiers."

In 1975, a New York City ophthalmologist who had taken an interest to collecting historical photographs, Stanley B. Burns, acquired the photographs from the Bontecou family. He soon established the distinguished Burns Collection, which has since become the nation’s largest private comprehensive collection of early medical photography.

Dr. Burns has published two (of three) volumes of the Bontecou photographs. The most recent one, "Shooting Soldiers: The Civil War Medical Photography of Reed Bontecou," will be released on Thursday to coincide with the opening of the Merchant's House exhibition.

At the exhibit, more then 100 graphic photographs of human disfigurement will be accompanied by passages from Walt Whitman's "Specimen Days,"  a memoir of his horrific experiences as a volunteer nurse. Along with other images and memorabilia of the time, the words tell the real story of the Civil War that Whitman said would "never get into the books."

"New York's Civil War Soldiers" will be on display at the Merchant's House Museum in Manhattan from Thursday, April 14, through Monday, August 1. Click below to see a slideshow of images from the show.

G. Porubsky, Co B. 46th NY Volunteer, Displaying Excision of Humerus.
Courtesy of the Burns Archive
G. Porubsky, Co B. 46th NY Volunteer, Displaying Excision of Humerus.
This image, which has never been on public display, is part of the Merchant's House exhibit of photos of wounded Civil War soldiers.
Courtesy of the Burns Archive
This image, which has never been on public display, is part of the Merchant's House exhibit of photos of wounded Civil War soldiers.
Dr. Bontecou presented with a silver cup of his contributions to medicine, November 18, 1903.
Courtesy of the Burns Archive
Dr. Bontecou presented with a silver cup of his contributions to medicine, November 18, 1903.
Robert Fryer, Co G 52 NY, Wounded at Hatcher’s Run, March 25, 1865.
Courtesy of the Burns Archive
Robert Fryer, Co G 52 NY, Wounded at Hatcher’s Run, March 25, 1865.
Sgt. Martin Burke, Co K 15 NY Heavy Artillery, Wounded at Petersburg, June 25, 1864.
Courtesy of the Burns Archive
Sgt. Martin Burke, Co K 15 NY Heavy Artillery, Wounded at Petersburg, June 25, 1864.
A page from Dr. Reed Bontecou's private wartime surgical album.
Courtesy of the Burns Archive
A page from Dr. Reed Bontecou's private wartime surgical album.
David R. Templeton, Co A 46 NY, Wounded at Petersburg, April 2, 1865. (After Treatment).
Courtesy of the Burns Archives
David R. Templeton, Co A 46 NY, Wounded at Petersburg, April 2, 1865. (After Treatment).
Charles H. Greenfield, 79th. New York, HA, Petersburg, April 2, 1865, Amputation of left arm on field, discharged July 9, 1865.
Courtesy of the Burns Archives
Charles H. Greenfield, 79th. New York, HA, Petersburg, April 2, 1865, Amputation of left arm on field, discharged July 9, 1865.
Michael Ashen, Co H 9 NY Cavalry, Typhoid Fever, Discharged September 28, 1865.
Courtesy of the Burns Archive
Michael Ashen, Co H 9 NY Cavalry, Typhoid Fever, Discharged September 28, 1865.
Lorin True, Co K  2 NY Heavy Artillery, Wounded at Farmersville, April 7 1865.
Courtesy of the Burns Archive
Lorin True, Co K 2 NY Heavy Artillery, Wounded at Farmersville, April 7 1865.

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Comments [1]

JanetO

I'm really enjoying this Civil War photographers group. The NY images are amazing. The text says that the surgeon took pictures at the hospital. My great grandfather was assistant surgeon with the 11th Penn Vol Infantry. 11th regiment. I wonder if someone took pictures with that group. He was at Gettysburg and many battles from 1861 on. Of course, he was on the field.

Apr. 27 2011 11:02 AM

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